Grazing report: Portland

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After walking Portland from Munjoy Hill through the West End and Congress down to Commercial, I’m convinced there’s truth to that oft-cited (but never substantiated) statistic that Portland has more restaurants per capita than any other city save that other one by the bay. Really, I swear I couldn’t walk more than 25 yards, if that, without passing yet another café, java joint, pastry shop, restaurant, convenience store, take-out, ethnic eatery, or other food palace. And even many of the seemingly run-of-the-mill spots had intriguing menu options. Portland is definitely not a city in which to be on a diet.

Here’s the report:

Hors d’oeuvres: Eve’s at the Portland Harbor Hotel. Sat at the bar and nibbled my way through a tasting of the fried oysters, kobe meatballs and a crabcake. My fave: the oysters, crisp, tender, flavorful, moist. Nice blend of texture and flavor. The renovation of Eve’s has made it a much nicer, more inviting, actually quite cozy space. Very easy to relax there and not want to continue out, but Back Bay Grill called (see earlier posting).

Breakfast: Mim’s, outside on the patio, which is a perfect place for people watching. I timed it just as the folks from the docked cruise ship were beginning to explore the town. Breakfast was good, it could (should) have been great. I ordered the pain perdu, a French toast made with brioche and served with local maple syrup. Two pieces arrived, one was perfect, the other was charred black and had that icky burned taste. The waitress brought a second piece to replace that one, but that piece, too, had bits of char on it and that off taste. No reason for that, someone just wasn’t paying attention. UPDATE: Closed

Lunch: The Grill Room, on Exchange Street, one of the city’s newer spots and a sibling of The Front Room. Cobb Salad, unique presentation, with fried egg, chicken confit, blue cheese, served on fresh greens with vinaigrette dressing. Excellent. Nice mix of warm and cool. Refreshing take on a classic. My first time here, and I liked the restaurant’s vibe.

Dinner: Hugo’s. The redo, elegant yet casual, with a nice bar and lounge area open to the dining room, done in coppers and bronzes; soft, inviting, no longer any trace of stuffiness. Service remains professional, attentive yet friendly. And the menu is far more approachable. Sure, if you want to splurge on the five-course tasting menu, it still exists, but other far-more wallet-friendly choices are available, served in modest, tapas-style portions—perfect for smaller appetites.

The Arctic char proved why Chef Rob Evans is a master; it blended tastes and textures, color and temperatures on one small plate. The crisply skinned char topped a bed of seaweed slaw that had the flavors of a seaweed salad but was not as assertive. Paired with it were fingerling potatoes topped with smoked trout roe and horseradish, yum. Accompanying it all were a side of delicate biscuits served with a farm-fresh butter that was beyond delicious. UPDATE: Hugo’s has new owners.

Dessert: Bresca. I walked in an snagged a counter seat and ordered a raspberry financiere and the Bresca blend tea. It’s my first time in Bresca, but it won’t be my last. This is one of, if not the best, desserts I’ve ever tasted. Oh my. The almond tart was made with raspberries and garnished with both fresh raspberries and sugar plums, then topped with a healthy dollop of crème fraiche gelato. I swear, if I hadn’t been in a public place, I would have licked the plate; it was that good. And the Bresca blend tea is fabulous as an after-dinner tea, and with its gentle vanilla overtones, it complemented the financiere.

Breakfast: The Porthole. After all these years, I still love this place. Sure, it’s been gussied up a bit (and the prices reflect the waterfront location), but that ole green vinyl still peeks through. I like that the waitresses greet the locals by name, but still make the occasional diner feel at home. I like that on a sunny day I can sit on the wharf, but on a chilly one, I can hope to snag a table by the gas fireplace. No, my French toast wasn’t as snazzy as that at Mim’s, (but it wasn’t burned), nor was the syrup the real deal or the OJ fresh squeezed, but everything was good and I left happy and full. Really, what more does one want from breakfast?

Lunch: Artemesia Cafe. This little spot on Pleasant Street is such a treat. Nothing too fancy, but really good salads and huge sandwiches. The atmosphere is city neighborhood cafe with a fresh, bright, welcoming feel. Comfy booths, a few tables, a bit of funk in the decor. It also serves breakfast, and has great baked goodies, and it knows how to present tea. A good loose tea served in a tea pot.

And for home: I picked up a sampling of goodies to cobble together for dinner at Black Tie Bistro, a bottle of wine at Micucci’s, and cookies (chocolate chip pecan and lemon shortbread) at Two Fat Cats. Tomorrow, back to reality.

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